The Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal (BEDT) was a small railroad located along the waterfront. Their property ran from N.4th street to North 11th street.
BEDT locomotive in 1977 – Photo by Ralph Anastasio
BEDT was basically one large transload center – they took rail cars from New Jersey and barged them to the Brooklyn waterfront. Once on the BEDT property, they would be pulled up to sidings for unloading, or unloaded directly onto trucks. For a time they even moored barges full of freight cars behind the Domino Sugar Factory. As industries vacated northern Brooklyn, there were less and less rail cars to move. Many of the buildings with rail sidings were removed long ago, though a few examples, such as the S & S corrugated factory saw residential conversions. (For the most amazing deep-dive history of the BEDT railroad, go to this site. You’ll learn more about the BEDT than you thought possible.)
In 1983, BEDT went bankrupt. On the final day, employees closed the doors and walked away. Lacking any fencing or security, the property was quickly picked over. Trash and debris were soon dumped along Kent avenue. Fires were set. Stolen cars were given their final death rides into the property, where they would be set on fire or rolled over by rage-filled youth. The exposed buildings all began to crumble.
BEDT Float Bridge in 2002 – this was used to connect freight cars from barges to land
Inside one of the abandoned buildings, 2000
Junk cars on the waterfront in 2001, with the MTA vent building in the background.
Abandoned truck on the concrete pad at North 8th street, with the World Trade towers in the background. March 2001
A lawless landscape
Despite the post-apocalyptic feel that the terminal took on, it was not viewed by the police or press as a major haven for crime. Here is one NY Times Article description from 1994:
“During the day, it is a quiet place that attracts a random fisherman or skyline gazer. At night, once its abandoned warehouses are shrouded in darkness, the waterfront area in Williamsburg suddenly seems eerie.
It is not a romantic place. It is not particularly cheerful. And yet, the police say, despite an atmosphere seemingly ripe for menace, the area is also not particularly unsafe. “
Ironically, the news story these quotes are pulled from is about a girl who was raped here, with her friend beaten and his car stolen.
Kent avenue at the time saw extremely little foot traffic, especially at night. The lack of people in and of itself created an area where there was basically no one around to be victimized.
As one frequent visitor, Smith (of the legendary SaneSmith graffiti duo) told me, “We’d see the cops zip thru there in a car every now and then just to make sure shit wasn’t gonna make the headlines.”
Here is an aerial view of the property in 1996.
We’ll compare this aerial to a newer aerial later.
Brooklyn Paint Factory/Sports Crew graffiti gallery
1990s, facing east. Photo by Lady Pink
By the late 1980s, the BEDT property was being claimed by various groups for their own needs. Graffiti artists took to the buildings – painting large pieces with no fear of police intervention. It became a favorite spot for writers who’s names are legend today: Sane/Smith, Lady Pink, Cycle, Muze, Natz, Hush, Rebel, Vor & DBI Crew. Some graffiti writers simply called it the ‘paint warehouses’ while others called it the ‘Sports crew’ warehouses. you could ask 10 different people what they heard the place called and you’d probably get 10 different answers.
LTV Graffiti on several abandoned trucks parked on the property in 2001
The Beer Olympics
Another group laying claim to this property were the punk rockers. Every year an all day (and all weekend) concert would take place here known as ‘The Beer Olympics’. Eventually Giuliani’s anti-punk anti-squatter goons found out about it and put an end to this, one of NYC’s most notorious outlaw parties. (Giuliani really hated punks – having previously waged a war against squatters on the Lower East Side).
Beer Olympics flyer
You’ll note on the flyer that they call the location ‘Cat’s head’ – different groups of people gave their own names to the parts of the property they claimed.
Years later, the hardcore band ‘Eyes of Hate’ held a more discreet punk show in the abandoned Greenpoint Terminal – an effort to repeat this show a year later was shut down by the NYPD. One arrest was made while myself and others made a daring escape.
Skate Boarders & Fishermen
Skate Ramp in 2004
Some of the tamer regulars who were reusing some of the BEDT property were the skateboards who set up ramps after the city finally demolished many of the buildings on the site. There were also the fishermen who would walk out on the narrow concrete ledge remains of the old freight piers – some nearly 100 feet or more from the shoreline.
Fishermen way out on the remains of a pier, while seagulls have taken over a small tower just offshore. (Photos form 2004)
BEDT #16 – Brooklyn’s forgotten, abandoned steam locomotive
From 1983 to 1996, BEDT’s final steam locomotive remained abandoned just off Kent avenue. Located just outside of the fire damaged remains of the flour terminal building, its brass parts were looted and its exterior heavily vandalized. Apparently a dead prostitute was once found draped out of the locomotive cab.
It was eventually rescued by railfans, who relocated it to the Railroad Museum of Long Island, where it remains today. It was just recently given a new coat of paint. Just a few years ago, a plan to bring it back to Brooklyn unfortunately fell through when the parks people realized it contains asbestos – which is completely harmless as it is sealed inside the boiler (asbestos is only a hazard when exposed and airborne – which would require someone chipping at it). The negative perceptions of anything containing asbestos led to the parks people dropping their plan. This is rather unfortunate of course, as having this steam locomotive back on it’s waterfront home would have made for an amazing historic display.
Walking past this location today, it is surreal to think a steam locomotive sat there abandoned just 20 years ago.
By 2003, much of the abandoned junk on the property was being cleaned up and cleared out. The dozen or so abandoned cars disappeared, soon to be followed by the trucks and junked construction equipment around North 9th street. Fortunately myself and M took a few photos there before it was all cleared out.
Note the dumpster & MTA vent building to the left
Abandoned tracks, crossties and trailers were all that remained in 2004
Ownership and Government Failure
By 1987, FGH realty came to own the BEDT property between North 7th and North 11th streets after a plan to build a 2500 unit residential complex failed to draw investors. USA Waste (a forerunner to today’s Waste Management Inc – which hauls much of NYC’s waste out via rail) bought the BEDT property south of North 7th. This land was eventually developed (starting in the mid 2000s). The Giuliani administration hatched a plan to open a large waste transfer station here, which was vehemently protested by the community.
Attempts to have the state purchase the property were fumbled. In 1998, republic governor George Pataki vetoed a bill that earmarked $10 Million dollars for the state to buy the entire BEDT property. Another plan, hatched by the ‘Trust for Public Land’ would have seen the organization acquire the land in an agreement with New York University, who wanted rights to use athletic fields for their sports teams.
Had the city, state or ‘trust for public land’ not dropped the ball in the late 1990s, much of the BEDT property could have been bought for 10 million dollars.
FGH eventually sold the northern half their property to Norm Brodsky, who proceeded to build his Citistorage warehouses on North 10th and 11th streets (the first one being completed in 2004). Eventually the state was able to purchase the center two blocks of the former BEDT – between North 7th and North 9th streets. They cleaned up the property and it is now the ‘East River State Park’. Later, the city acquired the block between North 9th and North 10th streets. It served as an impound lot for several years before the city finally built the first phase of Bushwick Inlet Park.
Brodsky still owns his property, and states it is valued at nearly $500 Million Dollars. A lot further up the river was just sold to the city for $53 Million – so realistically, his numbers are very inflated. Had the city, state or ‘trust for public land’ not dropped the ball in the late 1990s, much of the BEDT property could have been bought for 10 million dollars. The city currently claims to have spent $300 Million in their attempt to build the full Bushwick Inlet Park. It doesn’t take a CFO to point out how literally hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been lost due to the mistakes of the past – mistakes that we are still going to be paying for (if the city ever gets Brodsky to sell).
Impound lot in 2004 – the track still sticking out into Kent Avenue, and the new Citistorage warehouse going up in the background.
2006, and the Edge development
By 2006, The former BEDT property was fenced up. Citistorage had built their large warehouses on the north end, while the trash company formerly located on the south end (between North 4th and 7th streets) had finally vacated. Construction had begun on what would soon be the ‘Edge’ high rise development.
Today, the former trash company lot between 4th & 7th is a thriving apartment complex with retail stores lining the formerly lifeless, sleeply Kent Avenue.
Edge under construction in 2007 – Facing south on Kent ave – note the street is still 2 directional (no bike lanes either), and completely devoid of pedestrian traffic.
2015 – this photo was taken on a quiet Sunday morning.
There are only a few traces of this former no-man’s land today. Much of the surrounding area has seen extensive residential development following a 2005 rezoning of the neighborhood. The ‘East River State Park’ still features some tracks embedded in concrete where the flour transload building was previously located. Other former building foundations were left as clear concrete pads for use as event space. The rest of the park is very… parklike. A series of placards was installed in the park discussing its history as a railroad terminal, though the years in between – from the 1980s to around 2004 – have gone largely undocumented until now.
Looking south, Winter 2015. Note the manicured shoreline & new high rises.
Looking Northeast – compare this to Pink’s photo above.
Plaques in the park telling of BEDT’s history, with a sad shoutout to ‘trust for public land’ (and no mention to how they screwed the deal up back in the 1990s)
With some luck the city will find a way to gain control of the Citistorage property, hopefully at less expense than the numbers currently being thrown around. Remediation and soil cleanup will surely take a few years, though the possibility of a very large new waterfront park within our lifetimes is very real.
I’ll forever miss the ‘bad old days’ of the waterfront, but if we leave behind a significant new green space for future generations to enjoy, I’m a-ok with that.
Special thanks to Lady Pink & Smith, and the Railroad Museum of Long Island for some of the photos in this post – and to the hard work over the decades of area activist who have been fighting what is now a decades old war to create green space on this waterfront.